And here we are with a new version of a crew member imprisoned by mistake, or, if you like, a new chapter in the saga “We Lost Harry Kim“. However, although the plot is utterly unoriginal (Ex Post Facto comes to mind, the eighth episode of the first season of Voyager), at least the filmmakers in this case tried to do something new. The tone of the episode is really harsh for a Star Trek series, in line (and perhaps beyond that line) with what was being done simultaneously in Deep Space Nine. Come to think of it, the third season of VOY aired alongside the fifth of DS9.
In The Chute, Harry Kim and Tom Paris are unjustly imprisoned (did you have any doubts?) on charges of being terrorist bombers by the authorities of the planet Akritiri. We find them in a prison three hundred meters underground together with a bunch of other criminals and with a device implanted in their bodies (called the clamp) that increases their level of aggression. The prospects of the two are truly bleak: not only might it be impossible for the USS Voyager to find them, but their survival in such a hostile environment hangs in the balance. In the meantime, we witness Janeway’s futile attempts to negotiate the release of her two officers with the authorities represented by the stubborn ambassador Liria (Robert Pine). And things quickly turn sour and escalate into a full blown attack on the Starfleet ship!
From then on, the story moves on two tracks. a) What goes on in the prison, certainly the most original part of the story, especially for the dark tones and the directorial and photographic choices that convey a strong sense of anguish all the time. b) Voyager trying to track down the real terrorists and continuing to fail in negotiations with the Akritiri guys. In the end it takes the usual Neelix to save the day in a quick and painless guerrilla action using his ship that I don’t even remember seeing in the opening episode of the first season Caretaker.
So what do I think of The Chute? I think it’s a bit confusing. I appreciate trying to go where no Star Trek had gone before, with the prison scenes being really dramatic and harsh, even with cold-blooded murders and beatings shown openly (and the scene revealing the location of the prison is fantastic) . On the other hand, however, the story isn’t very convincing and many of its elements don’t lead to anything. For example, in prison Kim and Paris team up with a certain Zio (Don McManus, who does a good job being a fine actor). Zio claims he can control his aggression, but we see him killing another prisoner at the very beginning of the episode. Furthermore, there’s no closing scene for his character, when Kim and Paris manage to escape his story remains unresolved.
Not to mention Janeway! Here she kidnaps people, the real terrorists, in violation of any Federation rule or even common sense. It’s so clear that the Akritiri regime is a bad and oppressive that perhaps it would’ve been more logical from the beginning to try to collaborate with the rebels, if she wanted to completely forget the Prime Directive anyway! And then… if those same rebels knew where the prison was and also knew the security codes to get in, why didn’t they first use this information to free the prisoners belonging to their organization? Since there could have been political prisoners in the prison, it could’ve been an interesting mechanism to advance the plot!
In short, this episode seemed to me like a soup full of beautiful vegetables but all undercooked. The idea of the soup was nice, but at the time of writing they should have thought a bit more about how to better cook the ingredients. Ciao!
PS: The Delta Flyers podcast shout out: both McNeill and Wong are enthusiastic about The Chute, since the protagonists are their characters! It seems that it was difficult to shoot the episode due to the toxic atmosphere on the set, with the artificial smoke causing bronchitis to 90% of all those who worked on it!
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